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Handy Household Tips for Wallpaper Removal

Pro Referral > Home Guides > Handyman > Handy Household Tips for Wallpaper Removal
Handy Household Tips for Wallpaper Removal

You’ve been looking at that room since you moved in, knowing exactly how you’re going to take that interior design to the next level. You’ve got your new wallpaper or paint picked out and ready to go – and now it’s time to get that ugly burnt-orange clipart off the walls.Wallpaper removal can go one of two ways: You can get lucky and find the material strips right off without a hitch. Or, if you’re like the 99.9 percent of the rest of us, you’ll find out that taking off wallpaper can be as much a chore as knocking out the entire wall!


Not to worry! Although wallpaper can be stubborn, we’ve provided a handful of handy household tips for taking off that old wallpaper and getting your project back on track!

  1. 1.Size Up Your Opponent

    Although you might be looking forward to applying your new wallpaper and giving your room that burst of great color and design, you’ll first need to know what you’re up against when removing the existing wallpaper. By determining the material and nature of your existing wallpaper, you can select a proper approach in removing it in as efficient a manner as possible.


    There are two main variables in deciding how to remove wallpaper: the type of wall covering that has been used, and the material or type of surface underneath the wallpaper.


    Most walls in this day and age are either drywall or plaster. You can find out what type of surface you’re dealing with by simply removing the cover on a wall outlet and checking the edges that were cut out to make room for wiring. If it looks like fine white rock (gypsum) that has gray or white paper on either side of it – kind of like an ice cream sandwich – then you are dealing with drywall. If the surface looks like a sculpting material spread out over wood or even metal mesh, you’re working with plaster.


    So why does this make a difference? In a lot of wallpaper removal, we use steamers or spray bottles to wet the wallpaper down. When it comes to drywall, you need to be careful not to soak the wall surface, as drywall is much more vulnerable to water damage than plaster. Additionally, when you’re using a tool to scrape that stubborn stretch of wallpaper off, you run the risk of cutting and gouging drywall more than plaster.


    In doing your research on the wall material, you can try for a home run and attempt to strip off a section of wallpaper by loosening a corner and gently pulling on it with a very low angle (think peeling a banana – you go along the edge of the banana, not away from it). If your existing wallpaper is dry-strippable, you’ll be able to remove it with ease, and you are off and running! You can strip that wallpaper out in no time, and get ready to apply your new wall covering!


    Once again, if you’re not one of the select and lucky few, we’ll need to take some more approaches.

  2. Many types of wallpaper are porous, which means they have tiny holes that allow the material to breathe.
  3. 2.Stripping that Nightmare to Put Up a Dream

    Yes, you hate, hate, hate that old wallpaper! Well, be patient; soon enough we will be done with the old for good. If you’re able to dry-strip your wallpaper, you’ll still need to take measures to remove the adhesive behind it (unless you’re super lucky and the adhesive came off with your dry strips, in which case, shut down your computer and do a jig, because you just dodged a bullet! Go you!).

  4. 3.Just the Right Amount!

    Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve come to a situation that requires soaking the existing wallpaper, adhesive, or both. That’s not a problem, and it’ll work out really great either way. We just need to make sure we’re using the right amount of wetness to soak our material. Your first option should be warm water and wallpaper-removing solvent. Although many people may recommend spray bottles to soak it (and they do work), a really clever technique is to apply the solvent using a paint roller on the wallpaper. This ensures an even and consistent delivery of the solvent, allowing you to get the entire wallpaper primed and ready to be treated before peeling or scraping.

  5. 4.Timing is Key

    A good rule of thumb is to make sure you don’t wet down an area that is larger than you can scrape off in about ten minutes. Do a sizable chunk of the wallpaper, then get to work scraping it for the next 10-15 minutes, and then move to the next area. This technique helps protect you from over-wetting the wallpaper, running the risk of soaking the drywall behind it.

  6. 5.Protect Your Floor, and Your Sneakers

    As you scrape off the wallpaper, you can let it fall to the floor as you go, but it’s highly recommended that you use a drop cloth or some towels and rags at the base of the wall. These absorbent materials will protect your floor from the solvent, and your shoes will appreciate not having to shuffle through damp cleaning solutions all day.

  7. 6.Sand Away the Stubborn Sections

    Many types of wallpaper are porous, which means they have tiny holes that allow the material to breathe. That’s awesome when you’re soaking the solvent, as it can get behind the wallpaper and start working to break up the adhesive. But what if you’ve got nonporous material? No worries! Get a coarse sandpaper to roughen up the existing wallpaper, and use the newly sanded holes to let that solvent soak in!


    *NOTE: There are tools specifically designed to perforate nonporous wallpaper as well, so ask your local hardware store about these kinds of tools, should you be more inclined to take the professional approach.

  8. 7.Break Out the Big Toys

    If you’ve tried any of these tips and you’re still running into trouble removing that old wallpaper, it may be time to give “Old ’n’ Ugly” a nice trip to the sauna using a wallpaper steamer. Steamers can be rented on an hourly or daily basis and are designed for heavy-duty wallpaper work. This could be an option if you’ve got multiple layers to cut through, or if you were removing paint and discovered a layer of wallpaper that previous tenants had painted over. These tools are also ideal for situations where the old wallpaper was not applied to a properly sealed surface. (Think burned cheese on a pan. Not so fun.)


    As we said earlier, you can rent these nifty devices for about $25-35 a day, or pick up a sweet DIY model for $50-75 from your local hardware store. A wallpaper steamer is essentially a hot plate attached to a hose that pulls water from a heated reservoir, directing the steam straight through the hot plate and into the wallpaper. If you’ve got any questions about the usage of one of these things, it’s best to ask the salesman or local handyman about good techniques.


    *NOTE: As it is with all drywall vs. water situations, be careful not to over-steam the wallpaper, as water buildup could cause damage to your drywall.


    *MAJOR NOTE: When using a steamer, it’s important to wear proper safety equipment (i.e., goggles or eyewear), and it’s recommended that you use long sleeves and gloves when using anything with hot steam.

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